After an eight-year hiatus, Kranky bliss-out mainstays return with a set that has a hint of darkness
DEARBORN, Michigan, isn’t necessarily a name that trips off the tongue when you think of musical powerhouses; but this little satellite city of Detroit is a quiet mecca for fans of the more blissed-out, ambient end of the post-rock spectrum. It’s where you can find Stormy Records, the secondhand collectors’ vinyl joint run by husband and wife team Carl Hultgren and Windy Weber, who are also, as Windy & Carl, responsible for some of the most beguiling, hushed, transporting soundscapery of the past 27 years.
It’s been eight years since their last full-length outing for Kranky, We Will Alway Be; but new album Allegiance and Conviction landed a few weeks ago, after a period of recording stretching back some six years, in this year more troubled than surely most of us can ever recall.
And the opener, ‘The Stranger’, makes any aficionado of the duo sit up straight, with a dark bass motif and interval straight out of Garlands-era Cocteaus. It has a gothic shoegaze quality we haven’t really heard them ply since early releases such as Portal. Windy’s voice is also unadorned and unashamedly front and centre. “In the underground … we’ve got a job to do”, she intones with a Nico-like detachment, and perhaps an eerie prescience as we watch nightly footage of the Black Lives Matter protests citywide in the States.. All the while Carl’s arpeggiated guitar shimmer builds to finally engulf and swaddle her voice in a sustained drone. It’s damn powerful.
We’re back on more familiar territory with “Recon”, in which Carl’s layered, sustained drones and guitars weave their magic over his partner’s whisper. It’s impressionistic; it’s colourful; it’s as if Robin Guthrie somehow crawled through the door and confronted other iterations of himself, a la Being John Malkovich.
Album centrepiece “Moth To A Flame”, clocking in at nine minutes, is a classic Kranky spaceout, all deep-dive texture and shifting harmonics. Dampened, echoed strings lead you deeper into a layer of bright chimes, and finally a current of drones. It draws you down and envelops you; owns you.
The static wall of “Alone” is the closest I can recall Windy & Carl ever coming to Kevin Shields territory – it has a sonic rawness and an emotional breathlessness; while “Will I See Dawn” has the content, muscle-flexing feel of a slowly opening day – like Boards of Canada, so much of what Windy & Carl do seems to arise in the speech centres as elements of times of day, of place, of the natural environment.
With a strong back catalogue, much of it still in print on CD at least from Kranky, Windy & Carl can offer you many well-spent hours of beautiful and occasionally unsettling soundtracks for synaesthesia and bliss; although even here, on Allegiance and Conviction, in this most meditative of musical oxbows, a little of the dark of the year 2020 seems to have filtered in.
Allegiance and Conviction is available now on LP and CD from www.kranky.net